Jefferson Hagen / MacEwan Athletics
CALGARY – To say MacEwan Griffins women's hockey rookie goaltender Natalie Bender has been great to start her ACAC career is an understatement.
Bender's third-straight goose-egg not only led the Griffins to a 3-0 win over the SAIT Trojans on Saturday night, it broke the school record for the longest women's hockey shutout streak in a regular season (although it should be noted there were no definitive records of the stat kept prior to the 2016-17 campaign).
"She's playing above my expectations, to be completely honest," said head coach Lindsay McAlpine. "I knew Bender was a super athletic goalie and that she'd come in and do well for herself in the chances she's got, but she's absolutely taken advantage of the chances we've given her and proven herself this early in the season."
Bender has now stopped 79-straight shots fired her way in three starts, part of a string of four shutouts in the past five games for the Griffins – including Sandy Heim's 25-save goose-egg in a 7-0 win over SAIT on Friday.
A shutout is not only something the goalie can crow about. It takes a total team effort. And with everyone pulling together, the defending ACAC champions are off to a league-leading 7-0-1 start.
"That's a huge focus for us," said McAlpine. "We build our structure around our D zone and our goalies come through when we have those breakdowns. Both Sandy and Bender have played really strong up to this point. Our entire D core, including our forwards, has been great."
Heim actually holds the school and ACAC playoff shutout record after going 287:14 without allowing a goal in the 2017 post-season, but Bender's mark of 180:00 breaks Heim's old regular season mark of 129:14, set in the middle of the 2016-17 campaign.
On Saturday, the Griffins were led offensively by Karlie Bell, who scored the game-winning goal in the second period and added an assist on Shanya Shwetz's empty-net tally in the third period. Rookie Amanda Murray also scored for MacEwan.
"Again, we dominated the play for the majority of the game," said McAlpine. "It started a little rough in the first 10 minutes – I think the bus legs played a bit of a factor – but the girls worked through it and we were able to get back to our game from yesterday.
"The biggest difference in the game from yesterday to today – I just thought their goalie made some better saves. I'd say we had as many goal-scoring opportunities as yesterday, we just didn't capitalize on them."
Next up for the Griffins is a trip back down the QEII to Olds (3-5-0) on Thursday (7 p.m.). The Broncos will visit the Downtown Community Arena on Friday for the rematch (7 p.m.). SAIT (1-6-1) will have a home-and-home series with NAIT (4-2-0) on Nov. 10-11.